Wash. Mom Named Ms. Wheelchair USA Years After Brutal Attack Left Her Paralyzed: 'Keep Trying'

Erica Myron was determined to raise her son after being shot four times in July 2003

A Washington mom who was told she wouldn't be able to raise her son in a wheelchair is now proving the doubters wrong after being crowned the 2021 Ms. Wheelchair USA.

Erica Myron tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!) that she was a new mom at just 20 years old when she was paralyzed by four gunshots during a brutal attack in July 2003.

"I was left for dead, but I fought my way out," Myron explains on Tuesday's episode. "I decided that my son wasn't going to live the same life that I [did] because when I was just a year old, my mom died."

At the time of Myron's nightmare, "My son was 9 months old. I was the same age as my mom when she died. I was laying out there, and I just decided that he wasn't going to have that life."

Myron says she went to court to fight for custody of her son, Fabian — but was told she was unfit to do so after the incident.

"The prosecutor told the courthouse that a woman in a wheelchair could not possibly raise a child," she recalls. "I was determined to prove her wrong."

Erica Myron
Erica Myron. Courtesy Erica Myron

And so she did.

Since that day, Myron, of Puyallup, has been by Fabian's side while raising him into adulthood. The teen recently landed his first job and has ambitions of entering the military, Myron says.

Myron is thriving too. The Washington mom got married to her husband Joshua and found time to pursue her personal endeavors, including competing in the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant, which was co-hosted by Jeremy Parsons of PEOPLE (the TV Show!).

This weekend, after four previous attempts, Myron was finally crowned as the winner of the competition, which focuses on highlighting women in wheelchairs and their work in their communities, according to their website.

"[My son] just turned 18 and now I'm here and I'm doing this," she says. "And it's because of him. It's because he helped me understand that I deserve to live."

After winning the title on Saturday, Myon says she immediately felt like "I can make a difference."

"I'm going to use my year to get to grow this organization the best I can, and I'm going to bring in diversity and inclusion," says Myon, who is the first Native American to win Ms. Wheelchair USA. "We're going to try and bring in as many different kinds of people as possible because I want everybody to be represented."

Also at the top of her priority list is using her platform to encourage art as a form of mental health therapy.

"I would like people to know that if they're suffering from trauma or depression, they can paint their feelings out on canvas and get those feelings out as artwork," she explains.

Erica Myron
Erica Myron with her son Fabian. Courtesy Erica Myron
Erica Myron
Erica Myron with her husband Joshua. Courtesy Erica Myron

"You can start with doodling, you can start with gardening, sewing, even your hairstyle and your clothing — those are all part of art," she adds. "You're a piece of art. You are artwork. And I think people need to understand that."

As she looks back on her journey, Myron hopes her sheer determination will inspire other women to chase after their dreams.

"Try it once. Just try it," she says. "Even if you don't think you're going to do anything, try it and come back. Don't stop. Just keep trying. This is my fifth time here. It took me five tries. So if I can do it in five tries, you can keep coming back."

Catch People (the TV show!) Monday through Friday. Check your local listings for exact times or stream the show every day at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT at People.com and PeopleTV.com.

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